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Sharp Health News

Using food to fight and survive cancer

Oct. 20, 2016

Cancer and diet

When it comes to cancer prevention, a healthy diet is key. In fact, when accompanied by a healthy weight and regular physical activity, research shows that some cancers can be prevented through food.

But the wonders of a healthy diet go beyond prevention. The right food can help with cancer treatment and recovery too. Jessica Genel, a registered dietitian with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, shares how to fight and survive cancer with diet.

Although some specific foods can help keep cancer at bay, it’s all about the bigger picture. “For cancer prevention, focus on an overall healthy diet,” says Genel. “This means eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains, while limiting high-calorie foods and increasing physical activity.”

High-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans speed the movement of waste through the gut. This minimizes exposure of the cells lining the intestinal tract to potential carcinogens.

To reduce your risk of cancer, Genel recommends:

  • Eating three to five well-balanced meals and snacks daily, with a focus on whole, plant-based foods
  • Including ample vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Eating two servings of fatty fish per week, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel
  • Limiting red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week
  • Avoiding processed meats
  • Eating eggs and lean poultry in moderation
  • Limiting saturated fat, and instead using monounsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil

From surgery to chemotherapy, the need to care for yourself during cancer treatment is more important than ever. A healthy diet not only makes treatment easier, but it can also help you heal and recover faster. “The diet for cancer treatment looks a lot like the diet for cancer prevention,” says Genel. “The difference is weight maintenance and managing side effects.”

To start, make sure you’re as healthy as possible going into treatment. The stronger your body is at the beginning, the easier it will be to get through. Then, follow the same guidelines for cancer prevention — three to five well-balanced meals with a focus on whole, plant-based foods. To avoid weight loss and manage sickness, Genel recommends:

  • Eating small, frequent meals and snacks — including sources of protein and fiber each time
  • Eating 50 to 70 grams of protein per day
  • Include foods such as fruit, starchy vegetables, pasta, rice, bread and other sources of carbohydrates to keep up your energy
  • Drinking at least 48 to 64 ounces of liquids per day, such as water, tea and sugar-free or low- sugar beverages
  • If you’re not eating well, consume things such as diluted juices, flat ginger ale, ice pops, broths and electrolyte-recovery drinks

Recovery and maintenance
When cancer treatment is over, a time for healing begins. And there’s no better way to heal the body than to feed it what it needs. “After cancer, the need to be healthy is critical,” says Genel. “Aside from needing good nutrition to heal, the body needs a wholesome diet, and plenty of exercise to help prevent the cancer from coming back.”

To do this, the American Cancer Society suggests:

  • Achieving a dietary pattern that is high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Limiting consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages
  • Exercising at least 150 minutes per week
  • Including strength-training exercises at least two days per week
  • Limiting alcohol intake

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